Februqry 2011
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Fueling New Technology

Donald G. Perrin

In the 1980s and 90s, we introduced computers in to schools and colleges. Initially it was a sporadic introduction into libraries, classrooms, and laboratories. Cost, training, and lack of materials were barriers to rapid introduction. Technology was advancing at a prodigious rate so early obsolescence was a problem. In the eighties we went from green text to full color graphic screens; PC to Macintosh; DOS to Windows OS; unformatted text on the screen to WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) when the displayed information is formatted exactly as in print.

Computers grew rapidly in power, speed, and capacity; processors went from 8 to 16 to 32 to 64 bits and multiple processors. Networks facilitated interaction and sharing of resources. Thousands of applications and programs were introduced every year. Search engines and hyperlinks revolutionized the way we managed information. With the multitude of innovations, there was no way that end-users could keep up. In the nineties, we perfected the Graphic User Interface. This made computers simple to use and opened the Internet to the masses. Computers became essential in workplace and home. There was explosive growth of email, blogs, and social networks.

In the nineties, we saw spectacular growth of computer labs in schools and colleges. These were managed by libraries, media centers, computer centers, and academic departments. A new group, information technology, provided computer services for both administration and teaching. Because of limited budgets, institutional functions such as payroll had priority over academic needs. In the late 90s, there was substantial government funding in the United States for educational use of computers. This enabled schools and colleges to make a quantum jump toward the future. It exposed flaws in teacher training, faculty expertise, and management of educational computing that were largely corrected during the first decade of the new millennium.

The 18-month cycle for development and implementation of each new generation of computers and software posed problems for educational managers. It meant that, whatever the initial investment, approximately 20% of that amount needed to be committed every year to keep technology current. Also, software ceased to be compatible with earlier technology because the majority of sales were for new computers. Classes requiring advanced computer applications need new equipment; older equipment can be used by computer labs and clerical staff.

Before the year 2000, most students could not afford computers. As computers became essential to business, the education process, and everyday life, price in relation to computing power continued to fall. Many students acquired their own PCs, laptops, notebooks, and smart mobile communication devices. As the demand for computer laboratories diminished, many were absorbed into libraries.

Advances in computer assisted instruction and online learning facilitated excellent graphics, video, networks, internet access and interactivity. “Cloud computing” will further reduce cost and improve access. This is good news for education, which is reeling from cutbacks in a weakening world economy. The bad news is that education lacks an adequate inventory of relevant online learning resources, particularly for higher education. This means that already overburdened teachers must develop their own course materials for online learning. Massive funding is needed for professional development and validation of creative, state-of-the-art materials to advance the quality of teaching and learning. Since government is reducing services to meet its burden of debt, substantial support from foundations and philanthropists would be invaluable.

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Februqry 2011
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